Lucas at Large: Biegel grows into role in new-look defense

Originally appeared in April 11, 2013 edition of Varsity Magazine

Wisconsin's first-year defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, wasn't kidding when he described redshirt freshman Vince Biegel as a "hungry young player.'' 

After a recent practice at Camp Randall Stadium, Biegel threw down a peanut butter-berry mix protein drink; a concoction, he explained, that was for "guys who are trying to gain weight.'' 

When the 6-foot-3 Biegel reported to training camp last season, he weighed around 217 pounds. "Right now, I'm 235,'' he said, "and my goal is to be around 245 for the season.'' 

Biegel already looks like he was sent over from central casting to play outside linebacker in Aranda's 3-4 defense, a noteworthy departure from the previous 4-3 scheme that was in place here. 

"His spot is kind of a glorified defense end,'' Aranda said. "He'll be doing some things on the line of scrimmage. But, then, he'll also be doing some things off the ball. 

"He can rush the passer, he can drop in coverage, and he can set the sideline in terms of forcing the ball back inside to all of his help. He's suited to do all of those things. 

"Plus,'' said Aranda, grinning, "he has a mentality for defense, which I love.'' 

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It comes naturally. Biegel's grandfather, Ken, was a successful high school coach in Wisconsin; his dad, Rocky, was a starting linebacker at BYU; and his uncle, T.D., also played for the Cougars. 

"They were always there for me,'' Vince Biegel said. "I've got a few numbers I can call.'' 

Cognizant of that pedigree, Aranda once again brought up Biegel's "hunger for football,'' which does not necessarily set him apart. "As a team,'' Aranda has discovered, "we have it in spades.'' 

But in the short time that he has been around Biegel -- the Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior in Wisconsin Rapids -- Aranda has seen Biegel in the film room more than anybody. 

"He's real eager,'' Aranda said. "There are times when you're that young and new to everything you learn by doing, whether it's the right thing or wrong thing. That has been a little bit of his path.'' 

Midway through spring practice, Aranda still sees Biegel heading in the right direction. "It's just a matter of time,'' he said, "before he crosses that line to be a full-fledged guy in our rotation.'' 

David Gilbert, Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel were projected for outside linebacker, but Gilbert recently left the program because of a reoccurring foot issue and Kelly and Dippel have been injured this spring. 

That has thrown open the position to a number of unproven, young players, including Biegel, Jesse Hayes (who was sidelined with an injury last fall) and Joe Schobert (a converted safety). 

Nick Hill, a fifth-year senior from Milwaukee, has been getting most of the snaps on the No. 1 defense at field 'backer opposite Biegel. Hill has made an impression despite his inexperience. 

"He has all the athleticism in the world and he's talented in rushing the passer,'' Aranda said. "Right now, he's learning how to be consistent in executing whatever defense is called. 

"But he has a ton of talent. We just have to get him more consistent. He's a prototypical guy for us at outside linebacker. He just has to mature into what we're asking him to do.'' 

Biegel went through some growing pains last season. After breaking his foot during training camp, he tried to come back and play but re-aggravated the injury and wound up redshirting. 

"Obviously, it was a disappointment for me because I wanted to come here and help the team out any way I could,'' Biegel reflected. "But I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.'' 

Even though he was relegated to the sideline, Biegel tried to put his time to good use by absorbing everything that he could from the college football environment and older teammates. 

"I don't think high school players realize how much of a mental game it is,'' Biegel said. "You're learning a full playbook and you're balancing school and football and your social life. 

"You have to bring it all together on your own, as well. That's the one thing I learned while looking up to guys like Mike Taylor and Chris Borland.'' It has whetted his appetite for more.

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This edition of Mike Lucas' "Lucas at Large" was featured in Varsity, the official digital magazine of Wisconsin Athletics. Subscribe to get Varsity delivered to your inbox each Thursday, download the official apps for iPhone and iPad or Android, and check out the complete Varsity archive on UWBadgers.com.